Savannah D.A. Plans for Stopping Crime and Keeping Peace




Ruel Joyner, President of the Savannah Downtown Business Association, proudly introduced Savannah District Attorney Meg Heap, who recently set precedents in resolving officer-related shooting deaths with the case of Charles Smith. Smith, a 28 year old black man, was shot by SMPD Officer David Jannot, a white man with 10 years of service on the force September 18, 2014. 


How Heap has flown under the national press radar since two grand juries found Jannot’s shooting justified, and there were no riots in Savannah is beyond me. Heap deployed a second grand jury hearing before seeing any evidence. This unusual two-hearing process allowed the jury to examine additional evidence that may not have been admissible in only one hearing, and gave time for more witnesses to come forward. Heap also elected to share the recorded eyewitness statements with the GBI and Smith’s family, lending an unprecedented level of transparency to the case.


Heap talked to me today about why the national spotlight is not all over her and Savannah for this effort and said, “We are a small town, and we do things differently here. We are not called the ‘Sate of Chatham’ for nothing! We are under the radar.”


She went on to explain that there was a huge amount of community support from Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin, Mayor Edna Jackson, and community ministers who were all visible and active in the neighborhoods. “The majority of leaders asked citizens to stay calm and the ministers, especially, did not want outsiders coming in telling the community how to react; they all were very proactive. Really, it sounds simple, but it is all about communication.”


Communication indeed! Heap is humble in not pointing out her role in curtailing hyped communication in the media by requesting a gag order preventing Chadrick Mance, the attorney for Charles Smith, from making any public statements about the case. Superior Court Judge James F. Bass granted this request, which is unprecedented in such cases. This, no doubt, went a long way to help prevent the kind of violent rioting we saw with the August 19 shooting of Michael Brown.


On February 25, the jury found that Officer Jannot was justified in Smith’s shooting death. They found matching DNA evidence on the gun Smith was wielding, he was violently resisting arrest, and there were amounts of illicit drugs and other chemicals in his body. Heap also shared that “After the case was put to rest without riots, many more witnesses stepped forward. This is a big problem for us here in Chatham County; many people do not want to come forward because of intimidation and we need to solve this.  


Heap went on to outline her department’s strategy for solving crime and homelessness in Savannah, which includes the following steps:


  • Eliminate the escort policy for police to speed up cases
  • Expedite trial times to increase chances of witnesses coming forward
  • Raise monies for a new tracker system to monitor criminals, particularly those related to gang activity
  • Propel the Homeless Project to assess why individuals are living on the streets and in homeless camps throughout Savannah
  • Promote the SAFE Shelter program for homeless and at risk kids
  • Elder Abuse and Crime Prevention – a recent grant will propel this program that is operated in partnership with SMPD, Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire, and the Agency on Aging


With all these initiatives and a Mayoral race on the horizon, it seems that crime prevention and homelessness are on the top of everyone’s agenda. The question is, who can execute the best plan? Heap seems to have a head-start with the Smith case and the rest of the nation should take heed!